It is hard to tell what happened in Puerto Rico yesterday. On the one hand, the results were entirely predictable. Hillary Clinton not only enjoys nearly universal name recognition, but she represents New York in the U.S. Senate. The large number of Puerto Rican constituents in her jurisdiction means that she is at least derivatively familiar with issues that matter to Puerto Ricans on the island itself. And, what she seemed to understand, and what she had time to understand, is that Puerto Ricans respond to the kind of familiar campaign Clinton ran. 78% of the island’s electorate, according to exit polls, said that the candidates’ visits to the island mattered a great deal. Clinton and her family have been parked there for two weeks while Obama had already shifted his gaze to swing states in the general election like Missouri. Clinton also benefited from the fact that a disproportionate number of primary voters favor making Puerto Rico a state. Clinton’s lead backer on the island was former Governor Pedro Rosello. Obama had the misfortune of being supported by the incumbent Governor, many of whose supporters boycotted yesterday’s election. The Governor’s party wants to keep the current, semi-autonomous status for Puerto Rico and they viewed participation in an American primary as a step towards statehood. Clinton made two overtures to the pro-statehooders. She visited an evangelical church whose pastor was close to Rosello and she repeatedly said that she thought Puerto Ricans should be able to cast ballots in presidential contests, even though the Supreme Court has ruled such participation unconstitutional unless Puerto Rico becomes a state. The main reason Clinton won so handily is that Barack Obama barely contested Puerto Rico. Time and again, Obama has only done well in states where he has had time to really introduce himself to the voters. He lost some states where he had time to compete, such as Pennsylvania, but he has never been able to beat Hillary in a state where he barely showed himself. The secondary reason that Clinton has done so well in the last half of the primary schedule has to do with the psychological phenomenon known as buyer’s remorse. Now that it is all but certain that Obama will be the nominee, voters feel free to register whatever lingering reservations they have about him, or to give Clinton a nod of recognition for her tenacity. In 1992, after Bill Clinton had sewed up the nomination, Jerry Brown won a few of the late contests in a similar phenomenon. Still, Barack has to ask himself why he has not been able to perform better among Latinos anywhere. Mexican immigrants in California or Texas, Cubans in Miami, and now Puerto Ricans on their home island, all have failed to connect with Obama and rally to his cause. He needs to fix this, and he needs to fix it fast. In 2004, George W. Bush garnered 44% of the Latino vote. If John McCain manages to garner a similar margin, he can keep several key states in the GOP column: Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. If Kerry had won those states, he would be president. Michael Sean Winters
What Happened in PR?